ALGIERS, Algeria – After a tense standoff that lasted four days and claimed the lives of 23 hostages and all 32 Islamists involved in the siege of a natural gas complex in eastern Algeria, there are still scattered details about the rescue operation. As The Associated Press notes, no reports have emerged of people being freed in the final rescue operation that was carried out on Saturday. What has emerged however, is that the death toll may rise.
Speaking on Sunday, Algeria’s chief government spokesman said “numerous” new bodies were found at the site run by the Algerian state oil company Sonatrach. Many of the bodies are said to be badly disfigured.
The spokesman for the Algerian government said the Islamists linked to Al-Qaida were from six countries and were armed to cause maximum destruction. They stormed the plant at Ain Amenas, which Sonatrach runs along with Statoil and BP, held all the workers hostage for four days before Algeria’s special forces were ordered to storm the complex. The military forces stormed the area on Thursday and Saturday.
A report explains the reasons that led the Algerian government to launch its final attack on Saturday.
The military launched its Saturday assault to prevent a fire started by the extremists from engulfing the complex and blowing it up, the report added. A total of 685 Algerian and 107 foreigner workers were freed over the course of the four-day standoff, the ministry statement said, adding that the group of militants that attacked the remote Saharan natural gas complex consisted of 32 men of various nationalities, including three Algerians and explosives experts.
The military also said it confiscated heavy machine guns, rocket launchers, missiles and grenades attached to suicide belts. Sonatrach, the Algerian state oil company running the Ain Amenas site along with BP and Norway’s Statoil, said the entire refinery had been mined with explosives, and that the process of clearing it out is now under way.
The two attacks were backed by French president François Hollande arguing it was the “most adapted response to the crisis”. Hollande, whose coutry is also fighting Al-Qaida forces in Mali, was quoted as saying that negotiating with terrorists was out of question after the rebels “shamefully murdered” the hostages. U.S. President Barack Obama said that his country was ready to assist Algeria and said that the attack is “another reminder of the threat posed by Al-Qaida and other violent extremist groups in North Africa”.
Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed that three Britons were killed in the siege. Three others are believed dead. Cameron also said that 22 Britons survived the attack and have been flown back to Britain. “Now, of course, people will ask questions about the Algerian reponse to these events, but I would just say that the responsibility for these deaths lies squarely with the terrorists who launched a vicious and cowardly attack,” Cameron said.